CHINA. Beijing: China conducted its largest-ever military drills outside Taiwan on Thursday, launching ballistic missiles, deploying fighter planes, and deploying warships in a show of force motivated by the visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island.
Pelosi defied several stern warnings from Beijing, which regards the self-governing island as part of its territory, becoming the highest-profile US official to visit Taiwan in years.
China responded by launching a number of exercises in various areas near Taiwan, some of which were only 20 kilometres (12 miles) off the island’s coast and crossed some of the busiest maritime channels in the world.
The drills, which comprised a “conventional missile firepower assault” in waters to the east of Taiwan, started about noon (0400 GMT), according to the Chinese military.
According to Eastern Theater Command Spokesman Senior Colonel Shi Yi, the mission aimed to test the missiles’ accuracy and capacity to prevent an opponent from entering or controlling a space.
Taiwan said the Chinese military “in numerous batches” fired 11 Dongfeng-class ballistic missiles and denounced the drills as “irrational activities that jeopardise regional peace.” Taipei remained mum regarding the missiles’ landing location or whether they passed the island.
Eyewitnesses saw a number of small missiles on the border island of Pingtan shooting into the sky, followed by white smoke plumes and loud booms.
On the mainland, a group of five military helicopters flying at a relatively low height close to a well-known tourist attraction at what is reportedly China’s closest point to Taiwan. The drills, according to Beijing, will continue through Sunday noon.
Extremely close range
Beijing has defended the drills as “just and necessary,” blaming Washington and its partners for the escalation. During a routine briefing on Thursday, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said that “in the face of this brazen provocation, we have to take lawful and necessary actions to preserve the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
According to military specialists who spoke to CCTV of Beijing, the intention was to simulate a potential island blockade and confine the island’s pro-independence forces.
According to Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at China’s Naval Research Institute, “the goal is to demonstrate that the PLA is capable of controlling all the exits of the Taiwan Island, which will be a tremendous deterrence to ‘Taiwan independence’ secessionist forces.”
Meng Xiangqing, a military analyst, emphasised that “the operations are performed in an unprecedentedly near range to the Taiwan Island.”
“The activities will have a stronger than ever deterrence effect.”
The movements are occurring along some of the busiest shipping routes in the world, which are used to transport semiconductors and electrical products made in East Asian manufacturing centres to international markets.
According to a warning from Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau, ships should stay clear of the locations used for the Chinese drills.
The Taiwanese cabinet also claimed that the drills would interrupt 18 international routes that pass through its flight information zone (FIR).
The 23 million residents of Taiwan have long faced the prospect of invasion, but it has grown more serious under President Xi Jinping, China’s most forceful leader in a generation.
Before a major ruling party gathering this fall, where Xi is anticipated to be handed an unprecedented third term, analysts say the Chinese leadership is eager to project power.
According to Amanda Hsiao, senior analyst for China at the International Crisis Group, “China’s stated military drills indicate a significant escalation from the existing baseline of Chinese military actions around Taiwan and the last Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1995–1996.”
Beijing is sending a message that it disapproves of Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Analysts have, however, said that, for the time being, China does not intend to exacerbate the situation beyond its capacity to handle it.
The last thing Xi wants is an “unintentional conflict”, according to Titus Chen, an associate professor of political science at Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-Sen University.